We don't often watch television any more. I am writing, twitching, fretting (mainly fretting). The CFO goes out a lot to do manly pursuits. It feels odd to sit on the sofa, the dog curled between us and watch shitty reality tv singing shows; oddly comfortable. We slip so easily into our old routines.
CFO (tone deaf, listening to wall eyed teen singing a Whitney Houston number): Is he any good?
Me (superior, though without rational justification): No, of course not. Oscar get your bony fucking arse off my legs, would you. Can you make me a cup of tea, please?
But some evenings, when it's all too much and the brave new grown up post-apocalypse world is a bit too difficult, we give in, and, by tacit agreement, watch Grand Designs.
I don't quite know why we end up watching Grand Designs. Partly it's a function of the one hour time difference with the UK, meaning that when we want to watch tv, there's fuck all else on. No, don't suggest we watch French tv. I could give you a million reasons why not, but I'm going to give you one: Patrick Sébastien. And then, Grand Designs is comfortable and unchallenging and follows a satisfying narrative arc. Grand Designs, for the uninitiated, is a show in which monomaniacal people take on huge, unwise house building projects. The show is formulaic but oddly uplifting, and goes as follows:
1. A couple (almost invariably the male partner is the actual monomaniac and the female partner is obviously humouring him) set out their insane plan to build a home, which will be a full size replica of the Petit Trianon in Versailles from scratch, using only their bare hands and organically milled wheat flour. The man talks enthusiastically and at length about sustainably farmed Herdwick wool insulation. The camera will pan across to their partner's face during this speech, revealing an inscrutable expression composed of forbearance, affection and dread.
2. The presenter, the hugely affable Kevin McCloud listens in awe and amusement, points out some of the glaring potential flaws in their plan, and does a sceptical piece to camera about their chances.
3. Over a period of years, the cameras follow the build. With absolute inevitability, it will run into innumerable problems. These include failure to obtain planning permission, money running out, illness, injury, human error leading to the house simply being unfeasible, death or bankruptcy of a key craftsman, fight with architect, measurement disasters and freak weather conditions. Kevin McCloud will wander amiably around pointing out some of the disasters in waiting, anachronisms and potential errors of taste. The monomaniac will ignore him, the light of madness glistening in his weary eye. As a rule, the monomaniac will be involved in the project to the expense of all else, neglecting family, job and personal hygiene to spend every waking hour hand moulding limestone lintels. In the rain.
4. Things will reach some form of crisis when one of the problems appear to become entirely insuperable. During another interview, the monomaniac will bluster implausibly and optimistically about how everything will work out somehow. Again, the camera will pan across to their long-suffering partner (assuming they have agreed to take part at this stage. Sometimes relationships have deteriorated so far that long-suffering partner is only referred to obliquely as 'busy', or 'working'), this time revealing an expression that is equal parts murderous rage, resignation and barely suppressed hysteria. Kevin McCloud will do another piece to camera, setting out the terrible fate that awaits them. At this point there is a commercial break.
5. Everything is resolved with improbable felicity, in the manner of one of the shoddier Shakespeare comedies. I often wonder, cynically, whether Channel 4 occasionally plays deus ex machina, sorting out the intransigent Planning Officer or helping find the missing finance, but forget my cynicism in admiring the end result. The building is wonderful, optimistic, a triumph of the human spirit. Sometimes it is also hideous and appalling, but compellingly so. Regardless, Kevin McCloud will remind us of his earlier scepticism and conclude with the phrase "yet curiously, it works".
So. Once a week or so, the CFO and I watch Grand Designs. And it's distracting and escapist, there's adversity and it has a happy ending. It's perfect viewing. We sit, mid-apocalypse, and watch these - admittedly insane - people build something extraordinary; something for their descendants; something that's an expression of hope and continuity and faith in the future.
And then I wonder why a wave of sadness hits me when we switch off.